With so much time at home, the pandemic has turned many dubious, novice home cooks into battle-hardened chefs and some even into experts in particular cooking disciplines.
From baking bread to sous vide prime rib, one positive outcome of the lockdowns is the resurgence of home cookery.
That extends from the kitchen to the garden.
Smoking, the ultimate skill within the longstanding pervasive tradition of grilling meats in one’s backyard, is typically reserved for the cool-handed generational grill master, not the weekend warrior. But with modern technology, and a lot of quarantine time on their hands, more people than ever are picking it up.
From endless how-to blogs and YouTube videos about smoking, to grill companies having trouble keeping products in stock, dilettantes are educating themselves and becoming bona fide pit masters. Manufacturers like Big Green Egg, Traeger, Weber, Masterbuilt, Kamado Joe, Camp Chef and more offer high-dollar, well-appointed equipment, while electric smokers and newfangled smoking cases are available for a fraction of the price of a traditional grill smoker. There are even “hacks” utilizing items like woks and steamers for those willing to try out a science experiment in the kitchen.
Whether you choose to invest in expensive equipment or employ a mad scientist approach with what you already have in your kitchen, smoking foods can be an exciting way to enhance your epicurean offering. In addition to the traditional meats for the grill, smoking can offer a unique twist to standard fare and create unexpected flavor combinations.
Smoking vegetables to toss in a pasta primavera or smoking some chicken breast to top a pizza will wow even the pickiest of eaters. Though it can be time consuming, the umami found in finished products like the burnt ends on smoked pork belly can be deeply rewarding.
So go ahead, try your hand at smoking — just be prepared to feed anyone downwind of your smoker.
Bacon-Wrapped Smoked Asparagus
- 1 bunch asparagus
- 12 slices of apple wood bacon
- 2 tsp peanut, canola or vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup melted butter
- 2 tsp sea salt
Heat grill or smoker to 300 degrees. Individually wrap each asparagus spear with a slice of bacon and lightly brush with a little oil. Using a vegetable grilling basket, lay the asparagus out evenly. Smoke for 2 hours or until bacon crisps up, stopping about 30 minutes before being done to drizzle butter and sprinkle with sea salt. Serve immediately.
Texas-Style Smoked Brisket
- 1 12 lb. whole brisket, untrimmed
- 12 ounces beef broth
- 6 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 cup rub
- 4 cups wood chips or chunks
- 2 cups barbecue “mop” sauce
Trim off most of the fat cap but leave about ¼ inch and trim any silverskin. Set aside some fat for making burnt ends, if desired. Remove the point so the brisket is fairly uniform in thickness to ensure even cooking. Inject brisket with beef broth — about 1 ounce per pound of meat — by inserting the needle parallel to the grain in several locations about 1 inch apart. The extra moisture will prevent it from dehydrating but don’t add additional flavoring to the broth. Salt the brisket (best 12 hours before cooking), then apply the rub of your choice to all sides of the flat. Keep the meat chilled until just before you cook it. Preheat smoker or grill to 225 degrees. Fill a large, metal pan with water and place it on the upper rack, above where the brisket will cook. Add 4 ounces of wood chips to your smoker and then add the brisket. When the smoking stops, add 4 ounces more during the first 2 hours and continue to add a bit more every 30 minutes — don’t let the water in the pan dry out. The brisket should reach between 150 to 170 degrees and will usually stall there for a few hours. If the temperature rise stalls there, remove it and wrap tightly in tin foil and move to an oven set at 225 degrees. This is known as the Texas Crutch, which slightly braises and steams the meat. Remove from heat when the brisket’s internal temperature reaches 195 degrees. Wait for it to drop to an internal temperature of 150 degrees to slice it and serve it. Serve with your favorite Texas or Kansas City style “mop” sauce.
Smoked Turkey Chili
- 8 cups water
- 1/2 cup kosher salt
- 1/4 cup peppercorns
- 1 bay leaf
- 5 pounds turkey legs, skin on
- 3 Tbsp kosher salt
- 3 Tbsp coarse ground black pepper
- 2 Tbsp brown sugar
- 4 large poblano chiles, smoked, peeled and diced
- 4 Tbsp peanut oil
- 6 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 large yellow onion, diced
- 3 Tbsp dried ancho chile powder
- 3 Tbsp dried chipotle powder
- 4 tsp ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp ground cloves
- 1 can crushed tomatoes
- 4 cups of water
- 1 can white hominy, drained
- 2 cans black beans, drained
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 small package of sour cream
- 1 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped
- 1 bunch green onions, roughly chopped
- 2 cups shredded sharp white cheddar
For brine, bring water to a boil and add salt until dissolved, add peppercorns and bay leaf and allow to cool. Add turkey legs, skin on, to cold brine and rest them in the refrigerator overnight. Remove legs from brine, rinse, pat dry. Lightly toss together kosher salt, brown sugar and fresh cracked pepper in a small bowl for rub and gently coat the turkey legs with mixture. Get smoker or grill to 250 degrees. Lay turkey legs and poblano peppers directly on grill. Smoke peppers for 2 hours and smoke turkey legs for 4-5 hours, or until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees, turning them once during cooking. Let turkey legs rest for 15 minutes. Peel the skin off the poblano peppers and remove seeds, then dice. Remove meat from bone and roughly chop it — the meat may have a pinkish color due to the smoke. In a large stock pan, add peanut oil, garlic and onions and sauté until translucent. Add the turkey and sauté lightly for 2 minutes, then add all remaining ingredients. Cook on low for 30 minutes or medium-low heat for 15 minutes. Garnish with sour cream, shredded cheese, cilantro and green onions.